I hold this prayer near to my heart because I love the glimpse into Jesus’ heart and desires as He approached His impending death.
He prayed for Himself. He prayed for His disciples and then He prayed for me. Ok, ok. I recognize that Jesus’ prayer is corporate. His expression of His desire extends to every believer from that moment 2000 years ago until now. That’s a lot of people! But I’m definitely included in His prayer.
He told the Father that He was not just praying for His disciples of that time but “also for those who will believe in me through their message.” And Jesus’ desire was that “all of them may become one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).
Jesus continued praying for us, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Unity does not mean uniformity.
Yes, followers of Jesus must be solidly in agreement on the essential truths made clear in Scripture. We believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture (Jesus knew it and quoted it!). We believe Jesus was fully man and fully God. He died on the cross as a substitute for us (God made it clear that the penalty for our sin was death). We believe in the virgin birth and in the resurrection. And we believe that salvation is realized through grace by faith, apart from works.
So much upon which we can agree! But there is room for healthy debate about other issues that are not as clear in Scripture. Examples are church leadership and the way to baptize. And we can collectively acknowledge that when we discover paradox within Scripture, we wrestle to wholeheartedly embrace truths that appears at odds with one another.
Jesus wanted unity within His body of believers. And His band of followers is diverse. We are not uniform racially, culturally, socially, economically, generationally and in gender.
But wow! What a powerful agent for drawing others to curiosity about knowing Christ when they can see loving unity within diversity. When people embrace divisions and choose to love, support and encourage one another, the gospel is profoundly displayed and cannot be ignored. The world can witness what we truly have in common—lives devoted to living for Christ.
But this is the deal—the part where we struggle—unity requires humility, putting others first. It requires respecting others. It requires patience and kindness and gentleness. It requires listening with the intent to learn.
Colossians 3:11-14 says it best. “There is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” That profound truth is followed by a THEREFORE—we are instructed to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” We are told to forgive one another in the same way we have been forgiven by God. But above everything, we are to “put on love.” Why? Love is the agent that bind us “together in perfect unity.”
At one time, I thought Jesus’ prayer for unity among believers had not yet been answered by God because I looked around the church and saw so much strife and division. I’m not so sure about that observation anymore.
I think that by the power of the Holy Spirit, unity can exist. I think God’s answer to Jesus’ prayer sounds more like, “Yes, if they want it.” Something is required of us, the church. Unity occurs when we humbly yield to the Spirit and deny the pursuit of our own agendas.
Unity is possible. Jesus wants it. The question is, “Do we really want it?”
Questions to ponder:
Where am I denying people the space to ask safe questions about faith because I am committed to my own agenda?
Do I deeply desire unity? If so, when is my commitment to unity displayed?